Taking a Chance on Love

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Chapter 17

🙋🏻‍♀️ Hi reader!

Sorry to interrupt.

Just letting you know that I have recently revised the last few chapters of Taking a Chance on Love.

I’m much happier with these chapters and know you will be too.

On Friday, June 18, the revised versions will be posted.

If you’re currently reading chapter 16 or 17, please check back on Friday!

Cheers!

In the days following his move into Jess’s, Henry felt more like a guest there than he ever had.

Case in point, he was still referring to the apartment as Jess’s.

He was uncomfortable, and knew Jess was too. They’d started being polite with one another, like they were new acquaintances or something, instead of best friends and lovers.

When Thursday night arrived and Jess headed out for her weekly girl’s night with Laura, he was relieved for the distance, and that saddened him.

He’d already been feeling frustrated, but frustration really set in as his night alone stretched on. Frustration with himself, and frustration with the situation.

Flipping through channels, not really paying attention to what was on, he let out a hefty sigh.

Frustration was a familiar state for him. He’d been frustrated for years as he’d secretly struggled with his feelings for Jess, routinely convincing himself not to act on them.

His fears had kept him in check for so long, but then he’d slipped up, almost kissed Jess. His interest had been revealed and Jess’s curiosity had been piqued. When she’d shown interest in him... happiness had burst inside him like a sun.

Still, he had resisted, telling Jess he didn’t think them getting together was a good idea. She’d been disappointed, but she’d accepted that.

As soon as they’d agreed to just be friends, something inside him had made an about face.

Being friends with Jess wasn’t enough. He’d never be satisfied with that. And he’d never be satisfied with any other woman.

Suddenly, the fear of ending up alone, lonely and full of regrets, had risen up inside him, eclipsed his fear of possibly losing Jess and Josh in the future if he and Jess eventually split.

His resistance had collapsed, and he’d had to take the chance on love. He’d had to know what he and Jess could have.

And now he knew.

What they had was amazing. He loved Jess so much, it was staggering.

And until a few weeks ago, he’d been happier than he’d ever been...

... then, he’d been reminded of the fact that his parents had been happy too. They’d loved each other. At his and Jess’s age, they’d already promised to live the rest of their lives together.

Unconsciously, Henry started gritting his teeth.

What if he and Jess ended up like his parents?

It would devastate him.

The part of his brain that was geared to self-preservation thought maybe it would be best if he ended things with her now, before they ever reached the destructive point his parents had.

They could revert back to being just friends. Hopefully.

His heart vehemently voted against that option...

... and he continued to sit there, flipping through channels, frustrated as hell.

***

Sitting on her friend’s sofa, a pint of Chunky Monkey in hand, Jess spooned more of the ice cream into her mouth.

She and Laura had come back to her friend’s place after yoga.

The subject of Henry hadn’t come up yet, but it was gonna so they couldn’t exactly go back to Jess’s. She couldn’t share her concerns about him with him there.

“So...” Laura said around her own mouthful of ice cream. “Tell me.... what’s going on with you and Henry?” she asked. “You both seemed...” she paused, searching for the right word. “... hesitant, around one another Saturday.”

Jess nodded at that description.

Yeah. They’d been careful with each other, just as they had been the last few weeks.

She had another heaping mouthful of Chunky Monkey, sighed.

“He’s been different lately.” she shrugged, and added, “... with me.”

As if that needed to be said. Laura had seen the way Henry had joked around with the guys on Saturday, and kept his interactions with her almost polite, and to a minimum.

Laura took another spoonful of her Maple Walnut, spoke around it.

“Different, how?” she asked.

“He’s quiet.” Jess frowned under the weight of discouragement she was feeling. “Distant. I thought at first, maybe he was just tired... or fighting off a bug.”

Laura nodded like that was a fair assumption.

“I asked him if he was feeling okay.” she dug into her pint, gave another shrug. “He said yes.”

That was when she’d started to worry something else was bothering him, because obviously something was. And she’d become apprehensive about what that something was, since he’d claimed he wasn’t under the weather.

“I don’t know what changed,” she said, voice deflated. “... but he must have started having second thoughts about moving in together.”

Somehow voicing the conclusion she’d come to, made the fear that she was right, worse.

“You don’t know that for sure.” Laura immediately tried to reassure her.

She appreciated the attempt, but after Saturday, she was pretty sure. Henry was acting differently with her, no one else.

“No.” she quietly opposed her friend, shaking her head sadly. “He must regret moving in with me.” she asserted, as confident about that as she was pained.

Henry was being too quiet. Too polite. Their conversations had devolved to the superficial basics like, ‘what time are you going to be home?’, ‘what do you feel like for dinner?’, ‘what show do you wanna watch?’

She told Laura that, as well as the fact that they hadn’t had sex in a couple of weeks, pointing out that Henry hadn’t initiated, she had.

If things were fine between them, that’d be no big deal. Sometimes he initiated, sometimes she did.

But Henry hadn’t initiated sex, or even shown interest in anything more than a quick peck on the cheek on his way out the door, in weeks.

What could be the reason behind that, if not the painful conclusion Jess had come to...

... his feelings for her had changed.

He must not love her anymore. At least not as a lover.

But, why? What had changed for him?

Jess frowned.

Did it matter?

If he wasn’t in love with her anymore, he couldn’t help that. He couldn’t make himself feel something he didn’t feel.

Maybe he wanted to just be friends again.

“You want me to get Greg to fish for info?” Laura asked, pulling her from her painful thoughts. “See if he can find out what’s going on with Henry?”

“No.” she replied quickly, giving her friend a small smile of appreciation. “Thanks.”

Laura gave her a sympathetic look.

“You gonna talk to him, then?” she asked. “You gotta talk to him.”

She nodded. She didn’t want to, but she knew she had to.

“Yeah.”

She would.

As soon as she worked up the nerve.

***

Days went by. Weeks. And Jess never talked to Henry. She kept putting it off, avoiding it, until the holidays were so close, she told herself, and Laura, she’d talk to him after they got through them.

Henry’s mood and demeanour seemed to improve as the holidays neared, he seemed more himself - happy, involved, sweet - so she was glad she’d waited.

She was quick to take comfort in the thought that maybe whatever had been bothering him hadn’t had to with her after all.

Too quick.

Sitting on the sofa, reflecting back on recent weeks while she waited for Henry to get home, Jess frowned.

His good spirits had been short lived. The week of Christmas, he’d slipped back into a melancholy mood.

Actually, thinking on it now, she realized it had been seeing his dad that had seemed to bring him down.

Their visit with him on Christmas Eve had been stilted, uncomfortable, nothing like their heart warming time with his mom, and their dinner with her folks and Josh on Christmas Day.

It had been a long time since Jess had seen Bill, and after her recent reintroduction, she was glad that was the case, and she understood why Henry’s relationship with his dad was strained.

Bill worked for a business company and had worked his way to the top. Apparently, as he’d climbed the corporate ladder, his ego had climbed considerably in size.

As opposed to the fun guy she’d known him to be back when she was a kid, he was now a bit of a pompous wind bag.

Maybe it was mean of her, but she couldn’t help thinking that it was no wonder Joan had left him, and that Henry rarely saw him now.

The guy was a lot to take.

Jess sighed. She supposed she didn’t have to worry about seeing Bill again... since she and Henry were probably about to break up.

Her heart shrivelled at the thought.

She checked her watch. It was a little after six thirty. Henry should be home any minute, unless he’d gone out with Josh again.

He’d been hanging out with him, and some other guys, more and more often.

Usually he texted though, if he wasn’t going to be coming home right after work, so she figured he was just stuck in traffic.

Over the weeks, as she’d started seeing less and less of him, she’d started wondering...

... was Henry staying with her because he was worried about losing Josh?

The fear of losing her brother had kept him from acting on his feelings for her for years... was that same fear now keeping him with her when he didn’t love her anymore?

Whenever she considered that very real possibility, she was injected with a healthy dose of anger and suspicion.

Sitting there now, waiting for Henry, she let that anger and suspicion wrap around her. With the conversation that was coming, she’d rather be cocooned in anger, than cracked open by sadness.

She told herself that Henry deserved her anger.

If he didn’t love her anymore, but was staying with her to avoid causing trouble with her brother...

... he deserved the ass kicking she was gonna give him.

***

Henry let himself into the apartment, toed off his work boots by the door and headed to the bedroom to change.

“Hey.” Jess called out from the living room.

“Hey.” he echoed, continuing down the hallway.

He changed out of the jeans and flannel button down he’d worn for work and into a clean, fresh pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, then washed up in the bathroom, before joining Jess in the living room.

“You eat?” he asked, sitting beside her on the sofa.

“No.” she replied. “Was waiting for you.”

He nodded, his gaze sliding away from her and to the TV, taking in the rerun of a comedy she had on.

The screen went black.

“We need to talk.” she announced, setting the remote she’d swiped off the coffee table, back down and sitting back.

She turned in her seat, facing him straight on, and he tensed at the grim expression on her face.

Shit. He’d known this was coming, had known she was going to confront him about his mood sooner or later, but still, he wasn’t up for it.

“Actually, you need to start talking.” she clarified, impatience in her voice. “What’s been going on with you?” she raised a hand. “And don’t tell me everything’s fine.”

No. It was clear she wasn’t going to let him get away with ‘everything’s fine’.

Jess firmed her lips and her spine.

“You wanna break up with me. Don’t you?” she cocked an eyebrow at him. “If you’re staying with me because you’re worried how Josh will react to us breaking up... I’m gonna kick your ass.” she threatened and he couldn’t help but smile.

Her expression and delivery was just too cute.

Her eyes narrowed.

“Not kidding.” she growled.

No, he was sure she wasn’t.

He sighed, losing his smile as he held Jess’s gaze, seeing through her anger to the pain hidden behind and hating himself for causing her that pain.

Finally, he spoke.

“This has nothing to do with Josh.” he began. “This is... all me.” he sighed again.

That took the starch out of Jess’s posture. She relaxed some, and her expression shifted from anger to curiosity and concern.

“I - I’m scared, Jess.” he confessed. “I’m scared of messing this up, of losing you.”

Wow. A weight was lifted off his chest as soon as he admitted that.

“I love you more than I ever thought I could love another person.” he continued and saw Jess’s eyes fill with affection. “Being with you, I’m happier than I’ve ever been... and it’s like... things are going so well... I just can’t help but wonder, when’s the other shoe gonna drop, ya know?”

Nothing lasted forever. And something this good, how could it last?

They both sat quiet, for a moment, then Jess shifted closer to him. She raised her hand, cupped his face, slowly, softly stroking her thumb along his cheek.

“Henry, I’m scared too.” she confided. “I’ve never felt like this for anyone. And I get that voice in my head sometimes that likes to run through ‘what if’s’... what if you find someone else... what if you stop loving me... what if you were to get sick, or hurt?”

She lowered her hand from his face to cover his hand on his leg.

“Anything can happen... you never know.” she shrugged. “Some things we get no say in. That’s life.” she paused, smiled. “But we love each other. We’ve known each other almost all our lives. We have a solid a foundation to build from, and I think that’s going to get us through a lot.”

Her smile turned cheeky. “That said, if you cheat on me, you’re dead meat.”

He chuckled.

Like he even cared that there were other women in the world.

“That’s something you don’t have to worry about. Ever.” he assured her, and pulled her into his arms, her legs straddling his. “You’re it for me, Jess. I love you.”

More than he could ever say.

“I love you, too.” she murmured, already leaning towards him for a kiss.

Their lips met, contact soft and slow.

It felt like forever since they’d kissed. They’d shared pecks here and there the last week or so, but they hadn’t a real kiss, or made love, in a couple of weeks.

Henry scooped Jess up and carried her off to bed, where they spent the rest of the night making up for lost time.

***

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